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In response to our complaint to the EU Ombudsman, the EU Commission announced today its commitment to adopt guidelines clarifying how EU Commissioners may participate in national election campaigns is praiseworthy and must be welcomed.
The European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, has finally addressed our complaint against her for interfering in national parliamentary elections in Croatia in full breach of the Code of Conduct of EU Commissioners. In her official response to our founder and director, Alberto Alemanno, she has acknowledged the submission of the complaint to the European Commission and also to the European Ombudsman. Nonetheless, regarding her contribution to the Croatian to the political campaign video, the President von der Leyen said it was not made “in her capacity as President of the Commission but in the context of her affiliation to a political party in the context of a democratic campaign“.
To the response of the European Commission President, our founder and director, Alberto Alemanno, said that the “EU Commissioners must abstain from making public statements on behalf of any political party of which they are members. Yet President von der Leyen did so, by appearing in a Croatian political campaign video. Following our complaint, today she replied to us by saying she acted in ‘a personal capacity’. This is legally irrelevant, all the more so as she did record her message from her office, using EU equipment and posing as EU Commission President. Yet as she is ultimately responsible for upholding the Code of Conduct of Commissioners, she got a free pass. We hope the Ombudsman will reprimand her behaviour and lead to a reform of EU ethics framework.”
The Commission President is now expected to address this matter in front of the European Ombudsman, who has already established that the concerns we raised around the involvement of the President von der Leyen in the Croatian political campaign video were “well-founded”.
Read the European Commission’s response in full below:
The EU Ombudsman established Tuesday, July 14th, that the concerns we raised around the involvement of the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen in a Croatian political campaign video were “well-founded”.
The ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, has refrained from launching an investigation. However, in order to address the “shortcomings” of the code of conduct, our complaint will be submitted to the Commission and the European Parliament for our concerns to be taken “into account when considering possible measures”. See here the full “Letter to the European Commission concerning statements by its President and its Vice-President for Democracy and Demography in the run-up to the Croatian elections”.
The complaint we have filed will also be referred to the Committee on Budgetary Control of the European Parliament provided the Parliament “was asked to give its opinion on the current version of the Code when it was drafted”.
We have published our letter to the @EU_Commission about the President’s and Vice-President’s video statements ahead of the Croatian elections, asking what clarifying measures it will take. We have also written to @EP_BudgControl about the matter https://t.co/eX6KI1nSmW
— European Ombudsman (@EUombudsman) July 15, 2020
The EU Ombudsman, Emilly O’Reilly, has officially received our request for an investigation and complaint against the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen for her recorded message in Croatian for a campaign video in support of Prime Minister Andrej Plenković’s party, the Croatian Democratic Union.
The EU Ombudsman will establish the need for an investigation in this regard within days.
Meanwhile, the EU Ombudsman @EUOmbudsmanEOR Emily O’Reilly has formally received a complaint over Commission President @vonderleyen‘s contribution to a video in support of the Croatian prime minister Andrej Plenkovic.
— Tony Connelly (@tconnellyRTE) July 7, 2020
2/ A decision will be taken later this week or early next on whether or not the complaint merits an investigation. The complaint was lodged by Alberto Alemmano @alemannoEU of the Good Lobby organisation
— Tony Connelly (@tconnellyRTE) July 7, 2020
The Good Lobby lodged a complaint before the EU Ombudsman against the EU Commission President von der Leyen for interfering in national parliamentary elections in Croatia in full breach of the Code of Conduct of EU Commissioners.
EU Commissioners are required to abstain from making public statements on behalf of any political party – be it national or European – of which they are members. The rationale for such a prohibition is to prevent a conflict of interest between the EU Commissioner’s duty to enforce EU obligations vis-à-vis member states and their own national and EU political allegiances.
This infelicitous and unprecedented episode unveils the structural limits of the recently reformed EU Commission oversight system designed to ensure the respect of the Code of Conduct of EU Commissioners. The system is neither independent (its respect depends on the President’s exclusive will) nor autonomous (its Independent Ethical Committee can’t self-task).
Von der Leyen’s Croatian affaire proves that her original proposal to create an independent EU ethics body is more urgent than ever. The same is true for embarking on a broader debate on whether an increasingly politicized EU Commission remains well suited to act as a guardian of the EU Treaties.
Read the full complaint below:
|POLITICO | Concerns over von der Leyen’s Croatia video ‘well-founded,’ says ombudsman|
EU OBSERVER | Commission chief under fire for Croatia campaign video
9 February 2021